The military coup of Feb. 1, 2021 has drawn Myanmar into a spiral of oppression, violence and civil disobedience that has led to a virtual breakdown of governance across the country. Following the coup, IFES’ deep relationships with Myanmar civil society organizations (CSOs) allowed it to quickly pivot its work to support them to play impactful roles in their communities. By focusing on the ability of Myanmar civil society to work safely and effectively, IFES is maintaining its commitment to supporting the Myanmar people build a more inclusive, resilient and cohesive society that can withstand the current crisis.
Strengthening CSO capacity to sustain advocacy and community engagement beyond the life of IFES’ Myanmar programs will be critical to the prospects for long-term democratic development in Myanmar, particularly if the current political crisis becomes a longer-term status quo that continues to restrict the space for CSOs to operate. IFES works with CSO partners to develop skills and knowledge as part of a sustainable capacity building program. As part of this initiative, IFES is delivering a training series for democratic engagement in closed civic space that will cover a gap in locally driven analysis, based on conflict-sensitive empirical research as well as comparative legal analysis.
Since 2012, IFES has worked in Myanmar to strengthen the electoral process and promote democratic rights and participation, building the capacity of democratic leaders and supporting the conduct of inclusive and transparent electoral processes. IFES’ support for civil society resulted in significant improvements in political participation in Myanmar’s electoral process. For the 2020 elections, IFES supported CSOs to develop and implement a national voter education plan to motivate individuals to vote and provide information about how and where to vote. IFES engaged 23 CSOs to run civic education campaigns among organizations of persons with disabilities and partners engaging women; young leaders; individuals in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) community; ethnic and religious minorities; migrant workers; and internally displaced persons. IFES worked with its partners to adapt civic education and leadership curriculum to each partner community’s context and supported translation of materials into 22 ethnic languages and three languages in braille. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, IFES supported partners to distribute health and safety materials and to conduct civic education and leadership activities safely.
Launched in 2015, IFES’ flagship women’s leadership program, She Leads, has trained more than 4,000 women through beginner, intermediate and advanced courses, as well as programs tailored for ethnic minority women, young women, women living in conflict areas and women in internally displaced camps. Through each adaptation, IFES has tailored the curriculum to fit the assessed needs of the community after interviews with the target community. As part of the She Leads trainings, participants are inducted into the She Leads alumnae network spanning all of Myanmar and providing support as women leaders implement community impact activities. Drawing on IFES’ election mediation work, the most recent adaptation has been She Leads mediation trainings to build the mediation skills of women leaders at the local level. The interactive training provides participants with basic mediation skills and knowledge to enable them to mediate and resolve disputes between local community members.